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Tigray crisis: Ethiopia region at risk of huge ‘humanitarian disaster’

BBC | Opposition parties in Ethiopia’s Tigray region have warned of a huge “humanitarian disaster” if aid is not delivered urgently.

The parties said people were already dying from hunger and urged the international community to intervene.

Ethiopia’s government says aid is being delivered and nearly 1.5 million people have been reached.

The parties also said 52,000 people had been killed since the conflict started in November.

They did not explain how they arrived at the estimate but said it included women, children and religious leaders.

The government has not given figures. It says it is waging a “law enforcement operation” against Tigray’s former ruling party.

Conflict broke out after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) seized federal military bases in the region following a breakdown in relations with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.

About 100,000 Eritrean refugees who had been living in UN-run camps in Tigray have also been caught up in the conflict.

A spokesman for the UN refugee agency said they had received reports that some of them were eating tree barks and drinking water from puddles after being forced to flee their camps.

About two million people have been internally displaced in the conflict in Tigray. The government has heavily restricted access to the region for the media and aid agencies.

On Monday, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, said he had “rarely seen an aid response so impeded” in the 40 years he had worked in the humanitarian field.

In a joint statement, three opposition parties – the Tigray Independence Party (TIP), Salsay Weyane Tigray, and National Congress of Great Tigray – said if food and medicine did not arrive quickly the “looming humanitarian disaster of biblical proportion” would become a “gruesome reality in Tigray”.

“Towns and villages have been demolished by blind artillery shelling. Our health and educational facilities have been looted and destroyed and, to the surprise of any sane mind, our religious institutions have also been attacked and their sacred possessions plundered,” the parties added.

The opposition parties also called for the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops from the region, and for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes committed by all forces.

Last week, the US called for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops. The state department said “credible reports” had emerged of their involvement in human rights abuses, including sexual violence and looting.

The Eritrean and Ethiopian governments have previously denied that Eritrean troops are in Tigray.

‘Threatening territorial integrity’

The TPLF had been the ruling party in Tigray, with an estimated 250,000 fighters under its command, for almost 30 years.

It was ousted from power on 28 November after Ethiopian government troops captured the regional capital, Mekelle.

Mr Abiy accused the TPLF of threatening the territorial integrity of Ethiopia, and of trying to overthrow his government by seizing military bases earlier that month.

The TPLF said it had captured the bases as a pre-emptive strike as it feared federal intervention in Tigray.

In August, it organised elections in Tigray in defiance of a decision taken at federal level to postpone all polls because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Abiy’s government condemned the election as illegal, while the TPLF said his government was “illegitimate” and did not have a mandate to govern Ethiopia.

Tensions boiled over, leading to the outbreak of conflict.